Mark Xander, McMaster student and founder, explains the project was inspired by a summer he spent in Hamilton.
Spending much of his time at 541 Eatery & Exchange, Mark noticed a small interaction between two small boys on a hot summer afternoon. To preface, 541 operates on a button exchange program, where individuals can “pay-it forward” by purchasing a button and others who are short or cannot pay for a meal can use these buttons.
On a particularly busy afternoon, Mark witnessed two boys looking to see if there were any buttons left in the jar. The boys spent ten minutes quietly glancing through the window and observing the button jar. After seeing the last button being taken, disappointed, the boys hurried off.
“It reminded me of my own experiences as a child”, Mark explains. He comes from a family of immigrants, and during the beginning of his life in Canada, his parents both had to work three part-time jobs. At the start, Mark explains his parents could only feed him ‘tomatoes and vinegar’, and, though it was hard, he couldn’t even begin to imagine what his parents were eating at this time. Even though Mark’s family has since become more financially privileged, he cannot help but resonate with some of the stories from the Hamilton community.
After this experience, he came up with the Ohana Project, to help combine his passion for arts and the support of the disadvantaged community in Hamilton. The first initiative of the organization is a clothing line and features the iconic 541 Eatery & Exchange building. 50% of profits driven from the sales will be given directly to 541.
To purchase the first collection, find out more information or how you can get involved, you can find out more one their website.
Listen to Mark and Brian discuss life as an immigrant, the Ohana Project and their love for Hamilton below